LESS than 2 kilometers long, Tanggu Road is filled with old houses, local residents on bikes and small shops selling goods from snacks to screwdrivers, making it hard to connect the area in Hongkou District with expatriates, who are usually associated with the Bund or the former French concession area.
In the mid-19th century, Tanggu Road was called Boone Road, named after William Jones Boone (1811-74), the first American missionary bishop in Shanghai and also among the first Americans to arrive in the city after it opened port to foreign trade in 1843.
Boone moved to Hongkou District in 1848, soon after he landed, and later renovated a decrepit old house on Broadway Road (today’s Dongdaming Road) for his missionary activities, which were mainly based on the north bank of Suzhou Creek.
“Though American missionaries came later than British and French ones, they have made significant contributions to Shanghai just the same as missionaries from other countries,” says Gao Xi, a history professor at Fudan University.
“Missionaries came to China not only to baptize, but also brought with them modern Western ideas including charity, science and education. Western hospitals like St Luke’s helped China to adopt the modern medical system from the West and change the idea of doctors and medicine,” she says.
Boone and other American missionaries also helped build schools and clinics around the same time, including the St Luke’s Hospital that was originally established just next to Boone’s church. It was relocated and is still up and running today.
The churches, schools and hospitals also attracted the early Americans to live and invest in this area. Trade between China and America rose from US$6 million in 1843 to US$23 million in 1860.
“In early times, when there were limited public entertainment facilities, churches also served as social networking platforms to some extent,” Gao Jun, associate professor at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, tells Shanghai Daily. “Because the church renovated by Boone and other missionaries was one of the best-facilitated ones in the city, the area also became the favorite spot for Americans who came to the city.”
According to many early records, Boone was even more respected and considered more influential than the American consul general, and was a major force behind the establishment of the American settlement, in Hongkou District.
“While British and French concessions all went pretty smoothly, Americans confronted many difficulties when they first came,” Gao Jun explains. “When they first came, they were welcomed from neither other foreign consuls nor local Shanghai officials. They had asked for the same policies as the British from the local municipal head since 1849, but it was not until 1852 when the local head official finally compromised.”
Before that, the American consul general’s office was in the former British concession, and Americans needed permission from the British consul, rather than American consul, if they wanted to rent land.
Not long after the settlement was settled, attacks from the Small Swords Society and Taiping Rebellion expanded to the foreign settlements. The British community took the lead in forming the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, composed of mainly British people and also other expatriates, to fight against the rebellions.
At this time the American and British concessions merged into the Foreign Settlement North of Yang-King-Pang Creek, commonly known as the international settlement, in 1863. Britons were the majority in the settlement, and were mainly in charge of the administration of the area.
Old records show that in 1870, about 1,000 British and 300 Americans lived in Shanghai, while in 1865, among 88 foreign firms in the city, 58 were British and six were American.
“After the two settlements merged, Americans had long played a follower of British, and they didn’t feel weird about it,” says Gao Jun. “Unlike the French and British, who were more self-aware of their nationalities and traditions, Americans were more laid back. They either went with British to their churches and clubs or hung out with French people and they fit in at either place.”
It all changed in 1905, when China and the US reached an agreement regarding Chinese workers in the US. This triggered a grand movement against American products all across the country, starting from Shanghai.
According to Gao Jun, World War I pushed this even more forward, as British in Shanghai started excluding and criticizing Americans in the city because the US stayed out of the war.
“Many foreign countries, including Britain, were affected by the first World War while America was on the rise. Americans also became more patriotic and proud of their nationality,” Gao says.
“They started building their own schools, social clubs, country clubs, and churches. Many American companies, including Citibank, GE, DuPontand Ford, also came to the city around this time, making the community ever larger and stronger.”
In 1901, the number of foreign firms rose to 432, among which less than half were British, a much smaller rate than before, and 55 were American. Many local companies that were established by other Westerners were also acquired by large American groups, such as the local electric company and telephone company.
In 1912, Shanghai American School was founded and soon became the top choice for American families in the city. It later expanded its recruitment to nearby provinces including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Fujian.
In 1915, the American Chamber of Commerce was founded. In 1917, the Shanghai American Club was established and became the major social club for Americans, together with the Columbia Country Club and the Shanghai American Women’s Club.
In 1925, Shanghai Community Church, or today’s Hengshan Church, just opposite to Shanghai American School, was also finished. Americans no longer needed to follow Britons around, and their schools, clubs and churches soon expanded hospitality to other internationals.
During that period, the number of Americans in the city rose from fewer than 1,000 in 1910 to more than 4,000 in 1925. In 1942, when Japanese troops entered the settlement, there were still more than 1,300 Americans left in the city, half of whom spent their lives in concentration camps in the city for the next two and half years.
In 1945, more than 4,000 Americans came back to the city to rebuild their community, and there were still 236 Americans in the city in 1950, before the consul general’s office closed on April 28. The office was re-opened 30 years later.
“Since the consul general’s office was reopened in 1980, increasingly more Americans have come to witness the rapid development of the city. While American products including Hollywood movies, KFC, NBA and Disneyland become increasingly more popular in Shanghai, new subjects of mixed cultures like the New York University’s Shanghai campus have also emerged,” Gao concludes.
Church served as focal point of life
SHANGHAI Community Church first opened in 1925, just opposite the Shanghai American School that opened a few years earlier. With a church and a school, the area soon became attractive to American families.
The church, mainly American since its founding, became famous for its choir. As the British and American communities in Shanghai became distant because of World War I, a group of Americans started a choir on Sunday afternoons, first at members’ homes, later at hotels and then the Masonic Hall.
The gathering soon became very popular and gained nearly 400 members. Three years later, they started building “an American style” church, and in 1925, the first hall was finished. It held 700 people.
Intended to be a community center from the very beginning, the church was designed to contain various public facilities including a games room, a living room, a ball room, a club house and an outdoor tennis court.
The entire plan was never completed, but the church was expanded a few times, from the original hall to a children’s area on the second floor and a chapel on the third floor. It soon became an American landmark in the city.
Four kinds of people were the main visitors to the church — American merchants, missionaries of different religious sects, Shanghai American School student and visiting sailors and tourists. It served as a spiritual homeland for those far away from home.
After 1949, it was handed over to Chinese pastors, but was closed in 1966 during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76). The church opened again in 1980 and is now still up and running.
Club started out as bridge group
THE Shanghai American Club was originally a slam club, first founded in 1916 by a group of bridge fans who took turns holding the card games at their houses.
As it became increasingly popular among Americans, they held the first annual meeting in 1917 and changed the name to Shanghai American Club.
The club officially opened on Independence Day in the same year. By 1922, its membership went beyond 1,000 and about 90 percent of them were Americans.
In 1925, the club’s headquarters was finished. It was a six-floor building on Fuzhou Road equipped with elevators, a library, bridge room, reading room, dancing hall, restaurants, bars and other facilities.
The building soon became a landmark of the American community in the city. It became the city’s courthouse in 1953.
Key American figures
Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard(1868-1942)
Seen by some as the “founding father of American journalism in China,” Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard was born in Missouri, graduated from the University of Missouri in 1888 and went on to work first for the St Louis Republic, then the New York Herald from 1897 to 1911.
While he was with the latter, he covered several global conflicts, including the Boxer Rebellion and Russo-Japanese War. Millard remained in the Far East and engaged in advocacy journalism during the transition period after the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
With former Chinese envoy to the US, Dr Wu Tingfang, Millard co-founded the China Press, an American-style daily newspaper in Shanghai that was the first US-owned paper in China, aside from missionary publications.
He also founded a weekly English-language journal in Shanghai, Millard’s Review of the Far East, in 1917 which would later become the China Weekly Review.
Between 1919 and 1935, Millard simultaneously acted as journalist and the first American political adviser and advised on such influential affairs as the Paris Peace Conference and the League of Nations. The New York Times appointed him as its first-ever China correspondent in 1925, dismissing him in 1927 due to his sympathy for the Kuomintang. He was reinstated in 1929 and held the position until his death in 1942.
Passionate about China and its issues, he was widely considered the foremost American writer on Chinese affairs in his time and was praised for both the honesty and technical brilliance in his writing.
Carl Crow (1884-1945)
Another American from Missouri, Carl Crow was first recruited by Millard to be a founding editor for the China Press. He also served as United Press’s China correspondent and established the first United Press China bureau.
Along with Millard, Crow was a part of the Missouri News Colony, one of the recognized groups of foreign journalists in China. Though he was an established journalist in the States and reported extensively in China, Crow truly made a name for himself in advertising.
Crow first helped to found Chun Mei News Agency, which specialized in translating English articles into Chinese for the local Chinese-language press.
Carl Crow Inc, the first Western advertising agency in Shanghai, was a spinoff from Chun Mei. It translated advertising from American companies and placed them in local newspapers.
Working closely with many artists and illustrators, Crow paid great attention to commercial art. These artists and their works were the manifestation of Crow’s philosophy that images led to more successful advertising than copy in China.
Posters and billboards brought his company recognition, and Carl Crow Inc contributed greatly to the “sexy modern Shanghai girl” image that would become so prevalent in Shanghai advertising.